A 7-Day Creation Story for the 21st Century: Is, pray, such a thing even possible? (answer below)

Problem: The 7-day creation story in Genesis 1 reflects outdated ways of thinking of the universe, but modern scientific models of creation have no soul.

Solution: Write an updated version of the Genesis story from the vantage point of contemporary science.

But is there such a thing? And if so, who is able (and nervy enough) to pull it off?

The answer, of course, is Karl Giberson, the author of nine books on science and religion, including Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and (with Francis Collins) The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine QuestionsHe is also one of the founders of The BioLogos Foundation and a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.

His latest book is Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story. In his own words (pages 2-4), here is the basic point Giberson is making:

Preserving the ancient science of the Genesis creation story in the face of what science has discovered makes it look tarnished, like it is showing its age. The story’s once-vibrant colors can seem faded and scratched by the clinical, mathematical, and coldly rational tools of modern science. However, the secular scientific story we live with today has lost its power to move us because it seems opaque and impersonal, with no natural place for us….The unchanging character of the biblical text–once celebrated as timeless, ancient wisdom into the way things are–appears defeated by the impermeable objectivity of a science that looks to the future for wisdom, not the past. But humans need more than a mechanical story about how the gears and pulleys of the cosmos pulled life up out of the primordial ooze. We need a robust, full-orbed creation story, with a place for us….

So many times I have wondered what the Genesis story would look like if we could update it with the science of today–replacing the seven days of creation with billions of years and recasting the whole story in the context of modern science.

If we could do this, it would be easier for us to believe that God is the Creator. The more we tie God’s creative work the ancient world of Genesis, the less likely people are to take the idea of a creator God seriously…

I offer this book as a literary exercise in what the Genesis story might look like if we could update it with the wisdom and latest understanding gained from modern science.

Giberson retells the creation story in seven “epochs” to correspond to the seven days of Genesis 1, though–he is quick t0 tell us–this is not to be misunderstood as reflecting the “profoundly misguided…interpretive tradition that treats the ‘Days of Creation’ as cosmic and geological epochs” (page 5). Rather, his seven stages reflect “how the scientific story appears in terms of the sequence of events” (page 6).

The result is a layperson’s overview to cosmic, geological, and biological evolution couched in the rhythm and language of Genesis 1.

Each chapter covers one of the seven “epochs” of creation, and I summarize them here:

The First Day of Creation: The Big Bang and the “pattern of God’s purpose from which everything would emerge and toward which everything would evolve.”

The Second Day of Creation: Atoms and molecules, the building blocks of everything from galaxies to humans.

The Third Day of Creation: Gravity fuses hydrogen atoms into stars, and the process by which stars shine build the periodic table of the elements.

The Fourth Day of Creation: Atoms arrange into molecules, and solar systems appear with chemically rich planets orbit stars–though liquid water is rare.

The Fifth Day of Creation: Liquid water and complex chemical raw material bring about life (as we know it, at least). DNA drives life-forms to greater and greater complexity–the multi-celled organism with specialized functions.

The Sixth Day of Creation: As complexity increased, so did the need to process information–which led to “a remarkable central processing unit,” the brain, that which allows mathematics, language, music, and art.

The Seventh Day of Creation: Humans, the most advanced of life forms, becomes deeply religious, which includes moral abstractions, questions about the meaning of life, and trying to understand where everything came from.

Seven Glorious Days is under 200 pages and written on a popular level, including some pictures, diagrams, and a manageable number of endnotes. Giberson knows the terrain intimately and his notoriety for popularizing the science/faith issue is wide-spread. He is also gifted writer, and so manages to present complex information in both and informative and entertaining manner.

 

  • Kwesi Adarkwa

    What? God does not rest on the 7th day? Blasphemy!

    :P

    • Paul D.

      This is a good point. Part of the reason the Priestly writer had for dividing creation into six days was probably to create an aetiology for the custom of resting on the Sabbath. I don’t really think we would derive much theological use from that notion today, and besides, it’s clear that creation is a never-ending process in our universe, and will be for many more trillions of years as new stars are born, new planets accrete, and biological organisms continue to evolve.

  • Jeff Martin

    How is it that he is only using Genesis One as a paradigm to explain biology when he says, “What would Genesis look like if it had updated science.” Huh?

  • Erp

    Humans as the most advanced life form is very much from our point of view. We don’t have the eyesight of a hawk, the longevity of tortoises, the grace and power through water of orca, and, as one well-known scientist stated, it is obvious that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles (maybe the Egyptians were onto something with the scarabs). We don’t even possess the most genes (Trichomonas vaginalis has about 60,000 compared to Homo sapiens 23,000; the mustard plant has about 25,000). Though number of genes doesn’t necessary match to complexity or advanced (however one wants to define those two words).

  • Craig Wright

    I would like to take this time to thank you for your generosity in maintaining a blog, which gives us access to the scholarship that you and others, such as Scot McKnight and Roger Olson, provide. Because of modern technology we are able to make use of your thinking currently in blog form. You even respond. Thank you.

  • Jon Hughes

    Yes, I agree with Craig. Agree or disagree with the subject matter, you are incredibly brave and resilient to have done what you’ve done over the past few years.

    God bless you, Pete.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well said Craig and Jon. And on Giberson’s latest……Sigh! Why does Genesis have to be read to try to make it concord with modern science, or science of any time? The more we see Scripture as God’s way of helping humans see that God wants to have a real relationship with us, and the big problem that stands in the way of that relationship, and God’s grand solution to the problem, the more progress we will make. The Bible is not trying to teach us science!

    “…modern scientific models of creation have no soul.” Study more biology. Lot’s of soul there!

    “….the impermeable objectivity of a science that looks to the future for wisdom, not the past.” Huh? Genesis, and the whole Bible in fact can be read through its glorious orientation to the future. “In the beginning” was, after all, just the beginning. The entire story is one of movement to a better place, to a place closer to God, to a place where the Spirit puts God’s will on our hearts – I’ll take that over carved in stone any day! The story from science also points from now to the future. Sure, we look back out of interest, but the future is where we are going. The future outlined in the Bible sounds very good indeed and scientific understanding does not contradict any of it – as long as we can learn to use science more to create than to destroy (but that’s another story).

  • James

    I ordered the book but now I don’t know if I will read it. I’m more a theologian than a scientist and like Bev I want to appreciate the whole story with its orientation toward telos, the grand purposes of God for the entire cosmos. That excites me! Anyway, in 20 years the book will need a complete revision based on new evidence. Don’t get me wrong, I love Giberson’s passion to show science and faith are ultimately not in conflict. Re-writing the 7 days of creation in this way may seem like a return to the very creation science he wants to debunk.

    • peteenns

      Do you really think in 20 years all of this will be overturned?

  • Jim

    Although I generally appreciate Bev’s comment, I am not on the “see[ing] Scripture as God’s way of helping humans see that God wants to have a real relationship with us” page at all. I think that the OT canon was generally built around the relationship of “keep these rules unless you want to be dragged off to Babylon (or equivalent) again”. Sure there are some glimpses by a prophet or two that God desires mercy over rules and that He desires Israel to turn their hearts back to Him (mainly via obedience), but the bulk of the OT presents a scary concept of God that is typically pointed out by agnostics etc. For me, Giberson’s creation scenario doesn’t seem any less relational than the Genesis account.

  • lackinininsight

    when i look up into the sky, i “see” space stretching out further and further
    after reading Genesis, i “see” a blue arch above, like the blue waters around the earth
    my mind reels in the mystery of my existence in creation

  • vorjack

    However, the secular scientific story we live with today has lost its power to move us because it seems opaque and impersonal, with no natural place for us …

    I’ve always considered that one of the advantages of the scientific story. It’s nice to have a version that doesn’t assume that we’re automatically at the center of things. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the past century of science, it’s that “it’s no all about you.”

  • rvs

    I sense that Giberson is not yet onto the Noosphere.

  • http://thebookofdavis.blogspot.com/ Michael Davis

    Interesting. Though I think it comes across as having no “soul”.

  • Norman

    I’m essentially with Bev in this. It really comes across somewhat as scientific concordism in which we have been down that road once too often. Pete I’m surprised to an extent that you would be as enthusiastic about this process knowing your history of anti-biblical concordism and where it leads.

    I think the better solution is to work the narrative from its original intent which does require some deep research but many like you, John Walton, Margret Barker, John J. Collins, G. K. Beale and numerous others have already prepared the groundwork to translate Genesis 1 into an understandable narrative purpose even for moderns. That understanding can free us to explore the natural events on their own standards.

    Augustine took an ANE historical approach to Genesis 1 which makes a whole lot of sense when blended with Temple Theology and how that cosmology was actually and practically applied. See his Traactate 9 section 6 in which he lays out a historical framework for Genesis 1. The Barnabas letter reflects essentially the same approach in chapter 15.

    I think Walton has served us well in pointing out the Temple creation concept of Gen 1 but I think he misses the big picture when he falls back into thinking it was applied primarily as a material cosmological application when there is overwhelming evidence within ancient 2T literature that indicates that approach is limited and not at all conclusive. Margret Barker tends to construct a bridge beyond Walton’s material cosmological approach and opens up interpretive possibilities that illustrate the overriding theological intent of Hebrew cosmology.

    There is surely room for good examinations for historical science and it’s implication for humanities material and spiritual evolution and I’m all for that. I just think this approach draws us too close back toward concordism.

    • peteenns

      Norm and Bev, Giberson is no concordist–not remotely. I referred to that in my post. Look at the book and you’ll see where he is going.

  • Norman

    Pete,
    I know Karl is no concordist but my beef is the possibility of theological confusion this approach undergirds. It’s a cute approach but one that goes against the grain to a certain extent. I think it has the propensity to propagate misunderstandings by some readers, notwithstanding Karl’s explanation to the contrary.

    I’ll have to read more of the book and I will likely enjoy much of it even with some nitpicking reservations.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Pete, I know what you mean, and generally speaking he isn’t. But, as Norm says, he can be read as skating so close to the edge that those who are still concordists may not really get the message. As Einstein said “Subtle is the Lord”. We should give up attempts to find God’s fingerprints anywhere. The results of his good Word are clear and jaw dropping, but his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen. I like to think in terms of creation as God’s great idea made possible by his perfect love, and not rely so much on the handiwork metaphor. It’s like all things where Spirit interacts with the material world – the process is not mechanical but spiritual. This bothers us, I know – we want to know how, and we don’t want to get all squishy and spiritual. Some still think Scripture tells us how. But, we should make clear that it only tells us why, to what purpose and by whom, and what we should do about it. This is the great strength of your work and that of others.

  • toddh

    Everyone can check the book preview on Amazon. I’m not sure I’m interested in the entirety of the book, but I LOVE what he’s done with his creative re-write of Genesis 1. It’s exactly the type of thing we need to understand that the point of Genesis 1 is primarily theological, not “scientific.”

  • Beau Quilter

    I prefer another book that seeks to describe the grand scope of the universe in accessible terms: The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.

  • gary

    Re-writing Genesis. Wow. Why no re-write the Gospels while we’re at it. After all, science has proven that miracles can’t happen and dead people don’t come back to life.

  • surekha

    Interesting to read this..


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